Unlike a lot of people, I have very few memories of my earliest years. My first memories begin around the age of 4 or 5. One of my most vivid recollections was that of visiting the church that my grandfather pastored in the rural community of Knox, in northern Indiana. My grandfather began his ministry there when it was a fairly small work. Over the years, by the grace of God, the congregation grew in size. Part of the reason for that was that my grandfather, along with several other members of the church, would bring carloads of people to church every Sunday morning. I remember arriving very early, staying with my grandmother, while my grandfather would make trip after trip, bringing people to the services. Likewise, after the service, there were those lengthy conversations that all pastors have, followed by more trips, delivering people back to their homes.
That left a lot of free time for a 5-year-old boy in that great big church building. I remember often standing on the platform, behind the pulpit, not nearly being tall enough to be able to look over the top of it. But that really didn’t matter to me. I was more interested in the fascinating treasures that were stored (or had accumulated!) inside the pulpit. From time to time I would pretend that I was my grandfather, “preaching” as I peeked around the side of the pulpit to my unseen congregation. Of course, I had no reason to believe at that early age that I would ever really preach in a pulpit, or that the Lord would call me to ministry, or that I would ever even spend any more time on a church platform than I did in those early preschool years.
The Lord, of course, had other plans. A decade or so after my Sunday afternoon sessions in Knox, God did, in fact, call me to ministry. In the years that I have passed since those days, it has been my privilege to serve the Lord in a number of ways and in a number of places. At this point in my life I have to stop and count when people ask me the number of countries that I have visited in the course of my ministry. (19, for those of you who simply must know.) In fact, last week I was informed that I have now flown over one million miles with just one airline.
But ministry doesn’t always happen in faraway places. Ministry sometimes takes place right next door. Just a few days after that millionth mile, I found myself standing in front of a small group of GBS students in La Porte, Indiana. I was there to help them begin our 3-year Bible Institute program. The first day of class is always exciting! The students are eager and enthusiastic. It is always exciting for me, too, to have the chance to get to know our students and their churches. That night, though, was a little extra special, as I had a chance to serve the Lord just 25 miles away from that platform where I used to pretend five decades ago.
So what’s the point of all this? First of all, I want to remind you to have patience with those little ones who lack a sense of “propriety” in your church. By the grace of God, they will learn. Who can tell the impact of those lessons that are taking place all around them, and the example that you are setting for them Sunday after Sunday? Perhaps, if the Lord doesn’t return before then, 20 or 30 or 50 years from now they, too, will be able to give testimony of the Lord’s faithfulness in their lives, and the blessings of these early years.
Second, don’t lose your perspective with those who labor far away in unusual places. Yes, thank the Lord for them. Support them. Pray for them. But never allow yourself to believe that the Lord is only working somewhere else. Look around! You, too, live on the “mission field.” Whether it is a rural town, a big city, or a trendy suburb, those fields are “white unto harvest.” Ask the Lord of the harvest to show you where to begin today.